A 12-Minute Meditation for Working with Shame

The foundation of racial healing is emotional work. In this meditation, Tovi Scruggs-Hussein guides us through a meditation to sit with and invite healing from shame.

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Most long-term healing involves deep exploration of emotions. Fortunately, many of us have come to recognize that the competencies we call “emotional intelligence” are the basis of meaningful and productive change. The ability to regulate emotions is a superpower.

In this meditation, we’ll explore the powerful role shame plays in our lives, particularly in the context of racialized experiences. Shame is a deeply ingrained feeling, often making us feel unworthy or flawed. It’s more than just guilt over actions; it’s the belief that we ourselves are fundamentally flawed.

By recognizing and naming this often-overlooked emotion, we can begin to understand its impact on us. Shame can hold us back, preventing meaningful reflection especially when it comes to conversations about race. However, through this practice, we will cultivate resilience, moving through shame with empathy and self-compassion.

This meditation will help you identify how shame feels in your body and mind, and unhook from its grip. By developing a compassionate relationship with yourself, you can foster greater emotional intelligence and healing. This meditation is an opportunity to build resilience, navigating shame to emerge more connected, courageous, and compassionate.

A Guided Meditation for Working with Shame

  1. Begin by sitting comfortably. Gaze down or close your eyes. Take three deep breaths, signaling to your body that we’re about to do this. Allow your breathing to settle at a rhythm that feels comfortable for you. Maybe engage in breathing that’s a little bit slower than your regular, and maybe a little bit deeper than your regular. 
  2. Feel that depth in you and your breathing. Let’s just sit together for a moment in silence. 
  3. As we prepare to recognize and engage with shame, I want to take a moment to remind us that guilt and shame can feel very similar, but they’re very different ideas and emotions. Guilt is driven by a sense of, “I feel bad about what I did.” Shame is driven by the thought or feeling that I am bad. I am not enough. And while it’s perfectly fine and healthy to feel guilt when we make a mistake or do something that’s harmful to someone, there’s really nothing healthy about shame. Shame is toxic, and it really can cause us to shrink and hide. Shame can cause us to behave in ways that can be harmful or unproductive or can cause us to simply not engage at all. Shame could make us feel victim to really harsh thoughts and judgments, especially about ourselves. 
  4. So let us take a short journey together, exploring how shame shows up. And let us allow for the healing. Let us allow ourselves to go deep enough to engage in a level of healing together that will support us as we engage out in the world. We’ll start by returning our attention to the breath for a few moments. 
  5. Next, let’s recognize what shame feels like in our bodies. I invite you to think of a time where you felt a sense of shame. And maybe you don’t want to do something too triggering if that’s too overwhelming. You just want something accessible.
  6. Bring that time, that incident to mind. See it again. Feel it again. Where are you feeling the shame in your body? Notice the sensations that are indicating shame. Maybe you feel it in your jaw. Maybe you feel it in your shoulders. Maybe your breathing has become shallow. Maybe your stomach is tight. Palms are sweaty. Underarms sweaty. Just noticing. There’s no right or wrong. This is simply your body and your emotions communicating with you. And how lovely it is to be able to notice. And have this communication. 
  7. As you’re exploring this memory of shame, notice how it’s showing up in your awareness. What might be underneath this feeling of shame? Breathe deeper into that. What might be underneath it? Is it the feeling of not enough? Is it the feeling of needing to be perfect? Is it the feeling of defensiveness? Guardedness, needing to protect? What is underneath the shame? Take time to bring that into our awareness and to notice with a sense of curiosity. 
  8. Now let’s ask, What is this teaching me about myself? What is this teaching me about my relationship to shame? What is causing me to feel that I am bad? Just be curious. Explore it. I can feel you really leaning in and I am with you. We are in this together. We are in this together. You are not alone. 
  9. Now let us deepen in our healing around shame. Let us bring in and embrace compassion. Can you talk to yourself the way that you talk to someone you love? How would you lovingly speak to your friend, your colleague or family member who was feeling the same way or made the same mistake? What would you say to them that would be supportive and kind of loving? And maybe even think about why it’s so easy to forgive someone we love for the same action, and yet we are so hard on ourselves. Often it’s because it’s possible to separate the mistake or misstep or wrongdoing from the person that we love. 
  10. Now ask, What can I learn from this? We want to grow from this experience, and hopefully not repeat it. This isn’t about over-identifying with not R